Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Shanghai Pride 2016

Rainbow flag which also has the Shanghai Pride logo.
June is Pride month for the LGBTQIA (and possibly other letters?) community, and I was very happy to attend some Pride events here in Shanghai. There was a huge variety of events, organized by a group called Shanghai Pride. Talks and discussions, parties in bars, performances put on by local acting groups, an art exhibition, and a weeklong film festival.

Let me tell you all about it. It was very cool.

First, some background about me.

This was my first time attending events that were part of Pride month. Actually, in college I joined the campus LGBT group- this was at the very end of college, after I had become a feminist and decided I 100% support all the LGBT rights, none of this "try to befriend them so they'll listen to me when I tell them their whole lifestyle is wrong" Christian crap. I was in that group for probably less than a year, then I graduated.

Besides that, I don't really have any real-world experience with the LGBT community. I just read a ton of blogs, and write a ton of blog posts- I feel like I'm very educated about it (and I have a lot of insightful things to say about how evangelical Christians are totally Doing It Wrong) but in a practical sense, I really don't know anything.

So. Hoping to change that.

Western influence

We're in China. The overwhelming majority of participants at all the events were Chinese. But you can tell there's a lot of western influence. Almost everything was presented in both English and Chinese- announcements, subtitles in movies, posters advertising the events, etc.

Also, I was very intrigued by LGBT cultural markers that are the same in both China and the US. I'm talking about things that don't intrinsically follow from the concepts of sexual orientation and gender, but at some point in history became associated with those things. The rainbow flag. The letters "LGBT"- this exact acronym is used in Chinese too. People will say a complete Chinese sentence, and you hear "LGBT" in the middle of it, amongst the Chinese words. (Actually, in general in China, there are A LOT of abbreviations from English that don't get translated at all, they just say the letters directly.) The word "queer" is translated to "酷儿" [kù er, or if you're unfamilar with Chinese pinyin, it's pronounced like "coo-arr"] just based on pronunciation. The term "come out of the closet" translates literally to "出柜[chū guì]". All of these examples are things that didn't just arise independently from China's LGBT community- they must have come from western countries.

Additionally, the US struggle for LGBT rights is very important to China's LGBT people. I heard people talk about when same-sex marriage was officially legalized in the US, and how that's a big deal. And also the attack in Orlando, and how it's an example of the violence faced by LGBT people all over the world. (There was a candlelight vigil held at a gay bar here in Shanghai.)

So. All this western influence strikes me as very similar to the topic of spreading Christianity to other cultures. It's very easy for Christians to see mission work as "oh those poor people are so lost and not-white, we need to help them", like Christians just need to go teach them the right way, rather than actually trying to understand their culture. I believe that Chinese Christianity should be thoroughly Chinese. It shouldn't be foreign leaders teaching that the correct way to do Christianity is the way we do in this or that particular denomination in the US. And in the same way, it's not necessarly true that China needs to adopt the exact same policies that US LGBT advocates are fighting for. Or rather, we can't know what China should do until we learn about actual Chinese LGBT people.

So, on seeing the same cultural markers that I've seen in the US LGBT community, I was a little concerned- is this something that western countries are forcing on China, the way that western Christianity tries to force its church culture on "unreached people"?

But I think the key here is that Chinese LGBT people should be directing the LGBT movement in China. Maybe the US has set a good example in some areas, and they can choose to copy that if they want, if it's helpful to them. If, for whatever reason, Chinese LGBT people didn't want to use the rainbow flag, that would be fine. It wouldn't make them any less LGBT. If, for whatever reason, Chinese LGBT people didn't advocate for same-sex marriage to be legal, that would be fine, and wouldn't make them any less LGBT. (There are LGBT-rights advocates in the US who don't advocate for same-sex marriage- because they believe the concept of marriage is too flawed and they don't want to be part of it, because they believe other LGBT issues are more important, etc.) (These are just hypotheticals- in reality China's LGBT community does use the rainbow flag and advocate for same-sex marriage.) Basically, the LGBT movement in China should be based on the needs of Chinese LGBT people. Some of those needs are the same as LGBT people in western countries, some are not.

Things that are the same: Being ashamed and afraid to come out. Discrimination at work. Advocating for legalization of same-sex marriage. Advocating for trans people to be able to change the gender marker on their ID.

(One gay man told about a time when the company where he worked was interviewing candidates for a job opening. Someone was like "oh, this woman has short hair, maybe she's a lesbian, let's not hire her." Wow, that's awful. And he didn't really know what to do- he didn't want to speak up and out himself at work. In my opinion, this is EXACTLY the type of situation that allies should handle. Allies have much less to lose.)

Things that are different: Loyalty to parents is a super-huge-big-deal in China. According to the personal accounts I heard this past week, many Chinese LGBT people don't want to come out because they don't want to upset their parents. Now, yeah, that can be true in the US, but EVEN MORE in China. Also, because of the one-child policy (which has ended, by the way- as of January 2016, Han Chinese people can have 2 kids), the overwhelming majority of Chinese people my age don't have brothers or sisters. So if you're gay and you can't get married and have kids, then your parents will never have grandchildren. There is a lot of pressure to get married, and sometimes a gay man and lesbian woman will get married, just to make their parents/society happy.

And also, there are stories of Chinese people subjected to reparative therapy. Apparently it is still a thing here.


I was a little freaked out by stuff that was maybe too sexualized. There was the occasional comment about "most of us had never met other lesbians before, so when we met, we totally had sex." There was the gay bar which had the words "shirtless bartenders" printed very large on their advertisement for an event- kind of like that was the entire point of the event... (That event was not part of Shanghai Pride. I did go to a Shanghai Pride event held at that bar, and it was pretty much what I expected, not sexualized or anything.) (Wait, should I say "gay bar" or "LGBT bar"? Let's be real, it was mostly gay men.)

I remember when I went to the LGBT group in college, there were also sexual comments that I was uncomfortable with. (Not like, creepy/harassment comments, but like, joking about scissoring. Really freaked me out, because to me, sex was just not a thing that people did.) At the time, I figured it was pretty much the normal rate of sexual comments that can be expected from college students, and I was just not used to it because I hung out with a lot of "sex is a sin" Christians.

But now I think that the rate of sexual comments in LGB-friendly places is higher than in society in general. Because, straight people have tons of opportunities to give their opinions about liking sex. But if you want to joke about how it's fun to have sex with a same-gender partner, there aren't many places you can do that. They can't express this part of themselves as freely as straight people can, so when they finally do find a place where it's okay to talk about that, it ends up much more concentrated. (This is based on my own limited observations- correct me if I'm wrong.) And don't misunderstand me- the sexual stuff was a very small proportion of what was talked about at the Pride events. There were a ton of other topics- acceptance and identity, history, politics, personal stories, family, wedding photos, etc. The sexual stuff was a very small part- but higher than the rate I'm used to in the rest of my normal life.

I really don't believe LGB people are *more* sexual than straight people. Among LGB people and among straight people, you have some that like to joke about sex, and some who aren't comfortable talking about it. Anti-LGB people often believe the stereotype that LGB people are more sexual (and that bisexuals just want to have orgies all the time), even though the anti-LGB people are the ones that tend to come across as OBSESSED with gay sex. (Remember the "gag reflex" article? The one that was basically like "whenever people talk about gay rights, remind yourself of how gross it is when two men have anal sex." I won't link to it, but I'll link to my response here.) So.

I personally don't think there's anything wrong with people wanting sex, even casual sex, but I don't really want to hear details, that's all. (I will, however, read ALL THE FEMINIST BLOG POSTS about sex ed, consent, purity culture, etc etc etc. To me, it's a fascinating topic to think about, but kind of disturbing to be aware of the fact that most of my friends/coworkers/family members/random acquaintances have had sex and like it.)


I learned about the history of the LGBT movement in China, and how activists would get arrested back in the 90's, how the Chinese media would say that LGBT is "a western problem" that doesn't exist in China, and one speaker mentioned that just within the last few weeks, a lesbian advocacy group on WeChat (social media app) was banned.

It sounded EXACTLY LIKE how Christians talk about being persecuted. (Err, rather, how American Christians retell stories of persecution they've heard second-hand from missionaries. Which, yeah I believe persecution of Christians does exist in China, but it's not anything like what the American church thinks.) I'm kind of curious about the similarities. Hmm.

Also, that was one of the few times I've heard Chinese people in China mention, ahem, Tiananmen Square, ahem, 1989. And other things the government probably doesn't want you to say.


A few different people asked me if I was a lesbian. I was like, "no, I'm just an ally I guess." Kind of felt weird. But LGB people have to deal with EVERYONE IN ALL OF SOCIETY assuming they're straight, so, not a big deal that I can choose to go to these kinds of events and people wonder if I'm a lesbian.

Pride month is for all of LGBTQIA and any other letters I missed, but really it seemed like only L, G, and T were covered in the events I went to. I would love to get to know more people in the group and ask them about the other letters. Are the bisexual people in the group? Are there asexual people? Etc.

In Chinese, "跨性别[kuà xìngbié]" means transgender. "性别[xìngbié]" is gender, and "跨[kuà]" is like, stepping over something or stepping across something. I met some Chinese transgender people, at which point I realized I'm too socially oblivious to ever notice if anyone's transgender- the only reason I noticed was because they were staffing the trans advocacy table. SO BASICALLY I've probably met lots of trans people during my life and just had NO IDEA.

Anyway, overall I was really excited to be able to participate in Shanghai Pride. I'm hoping to learn more about the LGBTQIA community in China. It's really interesting, but there is definitely a long way to go in terms of achieving equal rights.

"The Genderbread Person" diagram (which can be found here) in both English and Chinese.

Also: Ian McKellen visited Shanghai recently, and made this video to show his support for Shanghai Pride. Awesome!

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